What the innkeeper teaches us – to be wrong

Everyone knows the story of how Mary and Joseph could not find accommodation in Bethlehem until a kindly innkeeper whose inn was full allowed them to stay in the stable where Jesus was born.

It will come as a surprise to many to learn that the Bible makes no mention of any innkeeper who told them that the inn was full for the night.

The translators of most English versions of the Bible have chosen the word “inn” to translate the Greek word καταλυμα (kataluma). Jesus used this same Greek word in Luke 22:11 to refer to a “guest room.”; this room is now known as the Upper Room—the scene of the Last Supper, the meal that Jesus ate with His disciples the night before His Crucifixion.

The Greek language has a word for hotel or inn. In fact, we find it used in Luke 10:34, when Luke wrote about the Good Samaritan who took the beaten man to the “inn” (pandocheion, πανδοχειον) and paid the “innkeeper” (pandochei, πανδοχει, v. 35) to care for the man.

Joseph and Mary returned to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem because of a census that was proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire.

It is far more likely that Joseph and Mary stayed with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem, but because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the kataluma (guest room) was full.

The upper level of Judean homes served as a guest chamber while the lower level – where Joseph and Mary probably ended up in – served as the living and dining rooms, and where the more vulnerable life-stock belonging to the family would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft.

It is also unlikely that Mary arrived in Bethlehem already heavily pregnant. It is doubtful that Mary and Joseph would have undertaken the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a heavily pregnant Mary, and the biblical text indicates that Joseph and Mary may have been in Bethlehem for a while before Jesus was born.

Of course, all this is academic; it makes no difference at all to the meaning and significance Christmas has for Christians. But it does remind us that just because we have always believed something to be true, then it’s necessarily true. We need to be courageous enough to look closely at our beliefs and challenge them.

Here’s hoping you have a lovely day with your loved ones.

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